Posts Tagged ‘Stan DeVaughn’


There’s an old truism in venture capital that the worst answer from a would-be entrepreneur to questions about competition is anything along the lines of “Well, we really don’t have any.”   Because, the thinking goes, if there’s no competition there’s really no business.  And if there are competitors, which is probably closer to the truth, the entrepreneur has done shabby diligence and what else is he unaware of?

Know your competitive landscape like your backyard.  Know where you fit into it. Know who’s out there, and who’s doing what with whom. Know them better than they know themselves. Or, at least try to. The old saying was that “IBM can’t think of everything,” which was (and still is) true.  But never lose sight that, at any given time, there’s somebody wanting to solve the same problem you’ve identified. Especially if it’s big. And the bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity and the bigger the pay-off.  Get your head out of the sand, whip out your binoculars focused on the horizon. Make no mistake. Somebody’s out there and the faster you find out who it is and what they have (and don’t have), the better. Nobody said it more succinctly than Intel co-founder Andy Grove. Only the paranoid survive.


Bad apple in the bunch© Dvmsimages


The typical tech start-up, right out of the blocks, consists of a close-knit team, a handful of individuals who know and trust each other. Before it attracts investors, this team will work tirelessly to get traction. Once the traction is established, the team begins (or continues) its quest for funding. But there are various other permutations of team and timing.  Let’s say the founder needs to bring in additional team members sooner than later, in other words, sooner than the money’s in the bank. Or he/she needs to recruit someone in the pinch of needing a specific skill-set.  The rule here is to vet before you bet. Very carefully.

The ugly truth is that there are more wannabes than ever before in the recruiting pool who may look like a decent fit on paper but, in reality, redefine the word misfit.

In the words of basketball coaching legend John Wooden, “Be quick, but don’t hurry” when it comes to extending the offer than leavens your team. Above all, don’t make commitments in equity or anything else assuming the best outcome. And if you’re hiring a developer, be absolutely certain that your code lives on a server controlled by you. In the event of any misunderstanding, you don’t want to tempt a good boy to go bad (as your parents may have said).

As distasteful as they are to some rugged individualists, the standard hiring techniques of big companies and non-startups are relevant here:

1. Use Linked In. Not just to do the obvious outreach to the appropriate groups, but to study the background (and references) of the people who look like good fits.  It’s amazing how naive an otherwise street-smart founder can be when he or she becomes smitten with a particular candidate or feels the squeeze to bring someone aboard ASAP.  Caveat Entrepreneur.

2. Ensure that the whole team has a chance to talk, at length, separately, with the candidate. Not voice-to-voice or via Skype, but eyeball to eyeball across a desk or a restaurant table or at a bar. Or anywhere in close proximity. Get to know this person. To the best extent that you can, find out who they are, who they are not and what drives them.

3. Have a candid, in-person conversation with people the candidate has worked for, with, or has supervised.  Candor is critical here. Raise issues relevant to your specific situation and challenges.

4. Trust the collective instinct of your team, but listen closely to your gut.

As obvious as these guidelines seem, they are often overlooked or even scoffed at. The bitter aftertaste of a poor hire lasts long after the immediate sweetness of bringing them aboard in the anticipation that they were who you thought they were and how they represented themselves. In the hiring process, there are fewer things worse than buyer’s remorse.


When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn oversees customer development and marketing at RightOn Mobile, a medical data security start-up in stealth mode; separately, he collaborates with agency partner Peter Davé at Write Angle, Silicon Valley’s premiere content-development specialists for the tech industry.

Full house poker hand.

© Arenaphotouk


You want to “get to yes,” no?

You want to “always be closing”.

You want a “win-win” outcome.  Trouble is, most of the time it doesn’t t work out the way the books you’ve read promise that it will. How come? To expert negotiator Jim Camp, it’s simple. Most people don’t understand the principles at work in a negotiation. This includes authors and business school faculties.

Successful negotiators understand the way people make up their minds about the things that are important to them and listen carefully for the signals that reveal these things. The pros want to pick up everything that’s said. Everything. Because what is most important may have little, if anything, to do with the issues, or to what people say is important.

Negotiating is about understanding human behavior more than obsessing on some compromise.  Whenever compromise for its own sake is the objective, according to Camp, bad deals follow.

Superior negotiators see what they do in terms of learning and discovering things.  So they assume nothing prior to the process.  An unskilled negotiator’s assumptions about the things that people may want are deal killers.

Key to success: discovering what matters most to the other party. It may be a desire for better service and speedier delivery, not lower price. In other words, no amount of logic, reason and facts about price are ever going to work if your proposal doesn’t alleviate the real pain. When the real concern is finally uncovered, you’re on your way to a solution — and not before then. Camp’s recipe has four ingredients:

1.  Understand how decisions get made. Unless your proposal solves the real problem, you’ll go nowhere (see the example above).

2. Consider questions as your tools.  The best tools get the best results. Master negotiators ask tactfully sensitive, open-ended questions that begin with “what”, “how”, and “why”.  Make the questioning all about the other party: “How do you see this?” What is your biggest problem?” When did this issue become a concern for you?” Why do you think this is wrong/right way to go?”

3. Listen closely  and observe. Close, careful listening to what’s said and not said combined with scrutiny of body language and facial expressions are indispensable to a productive negotiation.

4. Stay neutral.  Never easy, of course, but absolutely mission-critical. When we’re emotional we do the things that kill deals: speaking too loudly and too soon are death to a good deal. Practice the inscrutable poker face and calm voice. It will pay off.

When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn is an inscrutable VP marketing at RightOn Mobile, a Silicon Valley-based developer of health-care industry IT security apps.  Actually, he tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve too often. 






Small Big Business Handshake Size









© Dave Bredeson


Financing your tech venture, especially product development, may require sources of funds untypical of VCs or Angels. It might point to a source you may not have considered: a potential customer, ideally one with deep pockets and a history of early adoption.

In certain cases, the right corporate customer may want to explore the possibility of influencing a tailored product, especially an I.T. solution.

If this sounds like you, here are a few essentials your appeal for financing should address:

>Spotlight your team’s experience/accomplishment in similar projects such as the one you’re proposing. What can you tell them that will inspire confidence that you can execute? Put yourself in their shoes. What would inspire you?

>Describe a scenario or two or three by which your target can gain a better understanding of the way you think about approaching the kinds of problems you’re purporting to solve — and delivering what would amount to a beta release.

>To the best of your knowledge, what resources do you need to mount the type of project you’re proposing: how much money are you looking for and where will it go?

Your objective for meeting #1 is simple: get invited to meeting #2. You want the discussions to continue. But no matter if there’s is a second meeting or not, you will leave the first one with invaluable information about customers and product requirements. This is pure gold. Be prepared with questions of your own as well as clear, candid and confident answers to the ones they ask you.


BYOD Bring your own Device Tablets Icon Cloud and
About a year ago, Stanford University’s information systems (SUNet) suffered a sophisticated and serious breach evidently originating from a quasi-governmental entity in Asia, according to the May/June issue of Stanford Magazine. It was a first for Stanford and, from all accounts, it was the cyber equivalent of the Loma Prieta 1989 earthquake. It penetrated the core of SUNet’s authentication systems. Yes, this was serious.

Fortunately thus far for Stanford and its SUNet users, there’s been no evidence of compromises to personal information such as Social Security and credit card numbers, or personal health information.

“But the attack shook us up,” said Stanford’s Randy Livingston, vice president of business affairs.  When you consider that campus operations involve more than100 merchants who accept credit cards, you can appreciate Livingston’s post-traumatic stress.

In fact, Stanford is not alone among American universities incessantly subjected to attacks that are made all the more harrowing and potentially disastrous due to the rampant BYOD culture of college campuses. Not to mention the inherent resistance to the BYOD mandates so common among businesses today. There’s no way to prevent security breaches, of course, especially when they’re conducted by forces at the governmental level.  Still, in the post-BYOD era, layered security is the best bet. It’s useful to think home security here, where we have alarm systems and locks on our doors and windows. It’s not an either/or, it’s both. And then some.


When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn oversees customer development and marketing at RightOn Mobile, a BYOD security start-up in stealth mode, and collaborates with agency partner Peter Davé at Write Angle, Silicon Valley’s premiere content-development specialists for the tech industry.

I consult for a stealth start-up in the BYOD-security category. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, is giving new meaning to the term “saturated”. What I pointed out to them this week has a nearly universal resonance for marketers and entrepreneurs of all stripe, beyond IT, BYOD, MDM, or most other acronyms.It boils down to this: it’s mission-critical for your customer outreach and content, in all their multiple forms, to depict your solution exclusively through the eyes of the folks whose attention you seek. You need every talking point (and everything backing it up) to convey user-centric content. Exclusively.

So, you can never know too much about your user’s world. And you must see this world through their eyes, knowing everything there is to know–at least to the extent that you can. This and this alone enables you to present a forceful case for yourself as the solution of choice — the most comprehensive value proposition in a category saturated with alternatives.

Start by rigorously stripping out of your website any and all things that could give the impression that your approach is just a derivative of seeing your target users through the prism of your solution.  This, BTW, is how practically all vendors sound to their target customers. Same thing applies to oral delivery. Unless you stand out, you stand down.

The more you know your user’s world, the more authoritative and diligent and rigorous you appear. This will resonate with a senior IT types, whether they’ve risen through the ranks of government or are the ones who’ve helped build successful start-ups.

What are you doing to infuse your content with this P.O.V.? What do your latest Google analytics and Webmaster tools telling you?

When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn is senior consultant for customer development and marketing at RightOn Mobile, Inc. and creative director at Write-Angle, the premiere content-development agency in Silicon Valley.
Benefit Stock Image - Image: 31592611
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A new client of ours has an old problem: how to explain a complicated technology in simple terms. On the web. Never a simple job but that’s why we get hired.

The mission: Explain to the IT customer how the client’s network-as-a-service technology worked as way to get this customer to better understand what he was buying and why.

To our way of thinking, the key to an effective description of a product’s inner workings is to keep the ultimate benefit of the product foremost in mind.  Here’s where many tech companies stumble. In our experience, letting the technological features muddy what will actually benefit the customer will confuse the story. To their credit, our client understood this from the outset. They sought to de-complicate, not over-complicate.

So, what to do? We
start by digesting every piece of existing material the client can furnish us, as well as all the industry information.  When this falls short, it’s incumbent upon the content creation agency (that’s us) to articulate how the client’s I.P. or core technology does what it does. Very often, the language simply doesn’t exist. Yet.

Engineers are rightfully proud of their work. Their products can be marvels of creativity and technical know-how. What’s overlooked sometimes, however in the hectic environments of hacking out code at breakneck speed — ever-expanded functionality and getting a new release into beta test — is recognition of the simple need a customer has to experience a benefit.

Keeping this in mind as you dissect and explain what’s going on under the hood of your offering helps create the arc of the story and clarifies how the many strands of technology come together to create the fabric of the benefit.  Engineers weave features. And while many IT customers appreciate an understanding of the technology behind these features, what you want them to do is buy the benefits those features deliver.

When he’s not ranting on this site or directing global branding and communications for FilterMag,  Stan DeVaughn’s observations can be read on The Write Stuff along with those of his agency compatriot Peter Davé.